my oscon experience

Once again, I’m writing a look back instead of a travelogue. Oh well!

I had a really hard time finding flights that I thought were even remotely acceptable, this year. I ended up knowing that I wanted to arrive either for Tuesday afternoon or Monday morning. Getting there for Tuesday afternoon really meant getting there Monday evening, which meant another night in the hotel, but the annoyance of missing the Monday morning Vim talk given by Damian Conway. I finally bit the bullet and decided to fly out on Sunday (my birthday, to be spent largely travelling) so I could arrive late Sunday and see Damian’s talk.

Fortunately for me, Gloria’s parents were in town, and her dad gave me a lift to the Philadelphia airport. Otherwise I might have had to spend most of the day in Philly. There are very few weekend busses, strangely enough.

I was aboard the plan right on time. As I got on, there was some brief conversation between two passengers that included a muted, “Yeah, well screw you” and some bitter rejoinder. I was pretty sure this was a bad omen, but my spirits lifted when one of them turned around a few minutes later to apologize for her behavior. I felt a renewed faith in mankind.

Unfortunately, the omen might’ve been right. We sat on the runway for nearly two hours before takeoff due to weather in Chicago. (Sure, Chicago wasn’t on our way, but apparently the weather caused all kinds of delays on flights.) We landed in Denver at about 22:00, rather than the scheduled 20:30. This was a problem, because my connection to Portland left at 21:30. Instead of an hour to grab a sandwich, I had about ten hours to sleep on the floor.

I went to the “Cowboy Bar” in the airport and got a few beers and a hot dog. I chatted with a few of the other customers, which is something I almost never do, and prepared myself for a night of discomfort. In the end, I slept very poorly, but I did sleep. I can only imagine that I was having bizarre dreams, inspired by the constant, regular announcement: “The Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security have raised the alert level to ORANGE. Please be aware of any suspicious people or activity.” This, or a variation on it, was announced several times an hour.

It seemed fairly disingenous to me: yes, the alert level is orange… and it has been since 2006. It reminds me of a meeting I attended once. Everyone was asked to prioritize his department’s functions on a scale of importance, 1 - 5. Every single person listed every single thing as a five.

I got to Portland a little after ten and to the convention center around eleven, so I saw the last hour of Damian’s talk. It was good, and I was somewhat cheered that it seemed like stuff I mostly knew. I have a copy of the talk notes, and will review them more later. I’m glad I got there for at least some of it.

I got a lot of, “Gosh, bad luck, huh?” at the conference, and I guess it was, but in the end I really wasn’t too put out. Crap happens, and I’d rather get stuck at the gate overnight than hurtled into the sea at 400 mph, any day. I just wish that the benches at the gate had been armrest-free so I could’ve rested on a bench instead of the floor.

Monday evening, I went out with my roomies (Stevan Little, Matt Trout, Chris Prather, and Jon Rockway) in search of “good coffee” and dinner. I skipped on the coffee, as I don’t touch the stuff, and then we headed to Powell’s Technical bookstore. I had a list of languages to look for: Eiffel, Algol, Ada, and ML. Most of the interesting books I found were way more than I wanted to spend. I didn’t find any Eiffel at all, at first. Fortunately, Stevan is a self-described “language fetishist” and knows at least a little bit (usually more) about a ridiculous number of programming languages. While we walked through the aisles, he pulled down a book called simply “Reusable Software” and said, “Oh. This is the first Eiffel book ever.” I bought it for nine dollars.

He also recommended “ML for the Working Programmer” over “The Little MLer,” at least for serious learning. I ordered it from Amazon with a gift certificate my parents just gave me. It’s sitting here next to me, but I haven’t begun yet. “It will take you years to absorb,” he told me. Given our relative rates of language absorption, and the fact that he probably didn’t account for it, I’m guessing it will take me decades.

Jon and Matt had some pub in mind, but it was closed or otherwise unworkable, so I suggested we go to Veritable Quandry, which I’d greatly enjoyed at a previous OSCON. It was fantastic. We started with rabbit paté and duck confit spring rolls. I had osso buco. Everything was outstanding.

On Tuesday, I went to the Erlang session. I enjoyed the presentation, but it had two big problems: the instructor kept indulging The Guy in the Second Row, and it was material I knew. I found out that there was going to be a talk about parallelization using Erlang, which is what I wanted to learn. Sadly, it was opposite my own talk. I also stopped into the JavaScript session, but it seemed mostly like things I understood, so I only stayed for about a third of it.

I skipped the first time slot on Wednesday to finish polishing my slides. I presented my talk on Perl 5.10 just before lunch, and it went well. I was worried about the length, as I hadn’t managed to do a full run-through with my newest material, but I managed to page myself well and ended with just a minute or two to spare. I’ve published the new slides to Slideshare – sadly, I couldn’t just replace the slides on the old slideshow.

I went to the Perl 6 update, which was not very interesting. In the past, there were new language developments to see. This year, the language was mostly settled, so it seemed like a lot of already well-circulated stuff.

I went to Stevan Little’s Moose talk, as he’d redone parts of it, and it was good. I’d love to see an Advanced Moose Metaprogramming talk, but I don’t think it’s in the cards for the near future. I’m interested to see whether a bunch of new faces show up on #moose in the coming weeks. I had also wanted to see a talk on “How Everybody Gets File IO Wrong.” I thought it might be some really weird things, but the impression I got was that it was a lot of the same old (critical) advice to not use too low-level routines and to always check the return codes. If there was more to it than that, I’d love to know.

I was slightly torn, for the last slot, between Jos Boumans’ Barely Legal XXX Perl talk, about loading Acme::BadExample, and Paul Fenwick’s talk on “An Illustrated History of Failure.” Paul had given me some help on my 5.10 slides, and I’d heard him praised as a speaker, and I enjoyed his slidecast about Hiveminder, so I decided to head there. It was a good idea. His talk was really entertaining and very well-presented. Once the slidecast is up, I will send the link along to even my non-programmer friends.

After that talk, during the evening’s little beer and snacks break, I met with Bruce Henry from LiquidPlanner. We use LiquidPlanner at Pobox, and Bruce had some good ideas to share and let me see a few things about how LP will be changing (greatly for the better) in the future. He also at least acted like my suggestions were interesting, so I am now deeply hoping to see a few of them show up some day. I’ll probably write more about LP in the future, but in brief: it’s a web-based project management system that rocks.

After that, I hit BurgerVille (again) for a burger and shake. I’d been told how fantastic their raspberry shake was, but having tried the (merely okay) vanilla shake, I was dubious. The raspberry shake was great. Each suck through the straw was full of hunks of raspberry flesh. I could have had one or two of those each day and not gotten tired of them. Fortunately, I stuck to just that one.

Thursday was already my last day, so I tried to savor it… but first things first! Many of us on IRC had noted, before the conference, that Portland was one of the cities that most often had iPhones. I had tried to get one the Saturday before leaving home, but after an hour in line it was clear that I’d be better off going home and enjoying the day with my family. At the conference, I’d kept an eye on Portland’s stock, and it kept being “none.” Wednesday night, though, the lights were all green: all models would be in on Thursday morning. I headed to Pioneer Place Mall, wandered around trying to find an entrance, and found a line at the store already – at 8:00, when the store was to open at 9:30. I wasn’t troubled, though. I was the third person in line.

I sat in line and read a few more chapters of Wolves of the Calla, then bought two iPhones and was on my way. I got back to the convention center before the first talks had begun.

I attended Schwern’s talk on Skimmable Code, but I’d mostly seen it in Chicago. I chimed in once or twice (trying not to be That Guy) but mostly I installed apps on my iPhone.

After that was Andy Lester’s “Just Enough C for Open Source Projects.” I’d been looking forward to that talk, and it was Just Right. I wouldn’t mind the three-hour version, I think, but maybe what I really want is to get into CS 101 and learn C the old fashioned way. Too bad the last time I checked, such a course was going to cost me thousands of dollars. The cheapish community colleges around here don’t offer any languages but VBA.

Tim Bunce’s talk on NYTProf v2 was great. Well, the talk was fine, but I imagine that even Tim would say that the talk wasn’t the point. Mostly, it was a chance to see the output of NYTProf v2, which looked incredibly useful. Even version one was great, and version two looks to be leaps and bounds more useful. I am dying to run it on some work code.

The talk on the “Top 10 Scalability Mistakes” was hit or miss, moving back and forth between good bits of general advice and specific tips for MySQL and PHP, which didn’t really interest me. Still, it wasn’t a bad choice. Some of the advice was stuff that I already knew, but it was well-presented in a way that made it easier to explain to others. I liked, “Scalable means scaling in both directions.”

During the break after that talk, I ran into Randal Schwartz and brian d foy, who were sitting with Jason Hunter from Mark Logic. They said we needed to talk, since he also is an Email Guy, and we briefly discussed the “joy” of working with email. This reminded me that he had an upcoming talk, and I decided I ought to go. I skipped out on the first half of the Perl lightning talks to see Jason talk about MarkMail. I’d heard a lot about MarkMail, but I hadn’t taken the time to look at it yet. His talk was basically a demonstration of the product, with a bit of discussion of its implementation. It was really cool, and I’m looking forward to doing more with it.

By the time that talk was over, it was nearly time for me to head to the airport. I caught just a little of the lightning talks (mostly CL Kao singing to the tune of Lobachevsky) and then ran up to the hotel, took a shower, and was off to the airport.

The trip home was much better than the trip out, although I got nearly no sleep. I landed in Philly around 5:30, and found a train (to the bus station) waiting. I didn’t see any signs about tickets, and the ticket vending machine was closed off with a big slab of metal. I figured I’d pay aboard.

When I tried to pay with my credit card, the conductor gave me a look that said, “What the hell is that thing?” I apologized and said that I just assumed that I’d be able to pay with plastic. He gave me a lot of crap until, I think, he realized that I was just tired and wanted to go home, and was willing to do whatever I had to in order to do so. “Whatever I had to” turned out to be getting off the train in the middle of nowhere, getting back on another train, and finding cash. The TSA guy gave me bum directions to an ATM, but I eventually found one, got cash, and made it to the office. I sat around in the office lounge, ate some breakfast from Wawa, and tried to stay awake for my bus.

When I got home, it was just about time for everyone to get a mid-day nap, and that was just fine with me.

I got nearly no photos this year, even of my food. I just didn’t feel motivated to take any. I’ll upload the few I have, but I’m not sure there’s much of interest. Maybe next year, with my iPhone, it will be easier and so I’ll take more.

Written on July 26, 2008
oscon   oscon2008   portland